A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from June 2010

How fast do you drink your teas?

June 24, 2010 · 7 Comments

I just read a blog post about rating wines based on how fast they’re drunk.  It’s actually a pretty good idea, and I noticed the same about my tea drinking habits.  I bought, for example, a few cakes last month from Taobao.  I judged them completely by the cover and nothing else — just the listing, description, with some pictures, and that’s it.  It’s a risky way of buying tea, but when they are not expensive, it’s not bad.  I’ve already talked about the Dingxing, which is not bad at all.  This and this turned out to be quite nice.  This, however, was horrid.  It’s one of those cakes that is very bland, probably poorly processed and stored in a dry environment (Kunming) and just all around uninspiring.  You can’t tell from the looks, however, as all looked somewhat promising.

Now, a few weeks later, the first two cakes are almost all gone — I sent parts of them off, but I drank a fair bit too.  The last cake is almost entirely intact other than the two times I tried it, and honestly, I probably won’t try it anytime soon again.  It’ll stay around, probably for a few years, and I’ll hope and pray that by then, it might have done something, but generally speaking if a tea is weak, it’s going to stay weak.  “How fast do you drink it” seems to be a good metric for measuring a drink’s quality.  I do the same for my oolongs as well — the better stuff get drunk faster, and the worse ones stay around forever.

Categories: Information · Old Xanga posts
Tagged: , ,

Mandarin’s Tearoom 2010 Mingqian Shifeng longjing

June 21, 2010 · 3 Comments

Longjing is my first love.  I’ve talked about longjing a long time ago.  It was the tea that got me into tea drinking.  It’s the tea that my grandpa likes to drink a lot (yes, in grandpa style), and it’s also the drink of choice for folks from my area of the country.  All this oolong stuff is just silly, and puerh is obviously crap.  Longjing (and maybe biluochun) are the gold standards of what constitutes a proper tea.

I used to be pretty serious when brewing longjing — gaiwan with a fairness cup to cool the water, a soft pour, quick(ish) steeps.  The resulting brew comes out very, very light in colour.  The best longjing, as my old post already mentions, are usually very faint in colour — almost white, rather than green, is the norm.  If your leaves are dark green and the tea comes out yellow, it’s probably harvested later or low grade stuff.  If someone sells you a mingqian (pre-Ming) longjing for $400 a pound and it’s the colour of pine needles, it’s no good.

Another physical trait of decent longjing is that they tend to be hairy, and the buds should ideally be very thick and round.  They should look “fat”.  If the leaves look “skinny” to you, it’s probably not a very good grade, although of course individuals differ, and the ultimate test is still in the taste.  Using appearances to judge tea is a very flawed way to do so, but for something like longjing it is actually possible to get some idea of what the tea is like before even trying it.

I don’t drink much longjing these days, mostly because they tend to be expensive, and I don’t drink much of them to warrant a purchase.  Every year I might drink it a handful of times, and the rest, unfortunately, turn to yellow tea, old, somewhat weird tasting, but still drinkable.  They are hardly worth the cost, however.  Not being near the source also doesn’t help — longjing is something you need to purchase in person, rather than from some online vendor.  Being in the US hasn’t helped my longjing habit.

I did receive a sample recently from Toki, however, so I broke it out and gave it a spin.  It was a generous sample, so I didn’t use all of it.  First off, the leaves

The colours here are a little off — my house has poor lightning for pictures, which is why these days I don’t take as many pictures.  You can see the white tuffs of hair on the right hand side on one of the leaves, and scattered around.  Different longjing from different vendors always look different.

These days when I make longjing, I generally use a gaiwan and make it the old fashioned way — in the gaiwan as a sipping cup.  If that’s how people used to make it for hundreds of years, then I see no reason why we should go all fancy on it.  It is, in other words, grandpa style with gaiwan.

How much leaves to put into these things is key — too much and you risk stuffing the cup and making it incredibly nasty.  Too little, and it’s going to be bland.  For this sort of brewing, if it covers the bottom of the cup it’s probably about right.

Now, how’s the tea?  Fragrant, with a nice minty feel down the throat.  I find it to be beany, which is normal for this kind of longjing.  It’s not too astringent even when brewed for a while — which is a good thing.  I’ll probably make it once the gongfu way, but drunk this way the tea is quite nice.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
Tagged: , ,

Price stickiness

June 9, 2010 · Leave a Comment

Economists use the concept of “sticky prices” to describe the phenomenon where prices rise or fall slower than they should based on supply and demand, because of various kinds of reasons which I will not cite here.  It happens every day around us, and as tea drinkers, I think we are generally quite familiar with it.

One of the things that took place in the puerh market in the past few years is a sort of normalization after the euphoria of the 2004-2006 “bull” run, so to speak, in which speculation in tea reached fever pitch.  I remember the days when a jian of Menghai cakes, brand new out of the factory, can be flipped for a profit almost instantly and repeatedly.  It was the definition of a bubble — nobody was actually drinking any of this stuff, but everybody was buying and selling it.  If you were the sucker who was left holding the tea when the bubble crashed in 2007, well, sorry, too bad for you.

These days, as I peruse the selection on Taobao, I am seeing a lot of tea that I used to see for a higher or similar price back when I was in China in 06/07.  There are cakes that have remained more or less at the same price for the last four years, and in some cases, prices finally started falling for some of them.  Imagine you’ve been a big buyer during the boom, and you have tonnes of tea…. initially, you wanted to hold on to it, hoping prices will recover.  By now, however, it’s pretty clear that prices are not going to recover, so you are finally trying to offload the tea (since you are probably not going to be able to drink the 10 tonnes of tea you bought) so that you can get some cash back.  I remember predicting, at that point in time, that there will be a lot of decent, few-years-old tea that will be available for a reasonable price in the marketplace as people start to unload their collection.  I think we are finally seeing that happening.

Of course, not all of these tea are good — in fact, many of them are horrid, either due to poor storage or poor initial quality.  Selecting the right tea is key — and selecting them for the purpose that you want it for, be it further storage or immediate consumption.  I think in the next few years though, we’ll see more and more of these 5-10 years old tea hit the market and the “aged” tea prices will finally be more reasonable than they have ever been.  It’s a good time to be a tea drinker.

Categories: Information · Old Xanga posts
Tagged: ,